Monday, January 22, 2018

Militarily, Baltic Region is Stable; But in Terms of Information War, It’s Not, Latvian Expert Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – The situation in the Baltic region militarily is “quite stable,” Andis Kudors says, not only because NATO has beefed up its defenses there but because Vladimir Putin is interested in the first instance in maintaining the status quo in Russia, something that would be threatened by an attack on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

            The director of the Riga Center for Research on the Politics of Eastern Europe says that at the same time, Putin is heavily engaged in an information war against the three, a war that they have not yet found a way to respond to effectively (newsader.com/42334-latyshskiy-yekspert-o-rossiyskoy-propa/).

            As far as information security is concerned, Kudors continues, the situation is “far from stable. I would even say that we here are in an asymmetrical situation.” That is because Russia is making use of “the classical methods of strategic communication” and the Baltic countries and their Western allies have not come up with an adequate response.

            Moscow seeks to set one group of people in each Baltic country against another and to set the Baltic states into opposition with Europe.  “In Latvia,” he says, “Russians are put in opposition to Latvians, and conservative values to liberal ones. In Lithuania, in tis sense, ‘the Polish card’ is used. And in Estonia, the strategy is similar to the one used in Latvia.”

            But at the same time, the Latvian analyst says, there are important differences in Moscow’s approaches to Estonia and Latvia, reflecting differences that arise from geography and history and from Moscow’s very different approach to Latvia during the period of occupation than the one it was able to apply in Estonia.

            In Riga during Soviet times, Moscow set up the headquarters of the Baltic Military District.  As a result, he says, “Moscow did everything in order that it could be certain that Latvia would be genuinely Soviet. Therefore, there was greater pressure on Latvians and they were to a greater extent dragged into Soviet discourse.”

            “Even in Soviet times,” Kudors continues, Estonians felt commonalties and ties with Scandinavia. This helped them oppose the occupation and preserve their identity. In Latvia, for example, it was impossible to watch foreign TV channels while in Estonia, residents along the coast, including those in Tallinn could watch Finnish television.”

            “This is only one example,” he says; “but it is extremely important.”

            Moreover, Kudors says, “the Russians in Tallinn had greater motivation to study Estonian because Estonians to a lesser degree spoke Russian during the Soviet occupation. In Latvia, the situation is different.  The majority of Latvians speak Russian well, especially in Riga. Therefore, we still feel a strong information influence from Russia.”

            Despite its efforts, “the Kremlin is not capable to remain our strategic priorities which are in the West or convert us into a buffer zone like some kind of Armenia or Belarus; but it has information instruments which do work,” just as Soviet propaganda couldn’t change the basic orientation of Western countries but could create “definite problems.”

            But there is another aspect to this problem that few take note of, Kudors says. Russia’s information war forces the Baltic governments to focus on it rather than devoting their energies to resolve basic domestic problems. That too is exactly the kind of thing Moscow hopes for and then exploits.

            Many in Europe are beginning to understand just how dangerous this information war is, but many do not yet take that into account in their policies.  And they do not want to acknowledge just how cynical Russian policy is, committed to no principles except the spread of chaos, the Latvian analyst concludes.

Russian Women Now Having First Child Five Years Later than They Did in Late 1990s



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – Russian women who have children at all are giving birth to their first baby at 26.1 years, five years more than the 20.9 years at which they gave birth in 1995-1999, and they are increasing the interval between the first and second child from three years two decades ago to 5.6 years now, according to a Rosstat study reported today by Izvestiya.

            That reflects both the desire of women to complete their educations and enter the workforce before having children and their fears that they may not be able to rely on Russian men to support them if they become mothers, the study says (iz.ru/696411/nataliia-berishvili/rossiianki-otlozhili-materinstvo).

            In addition, the Rosstat research found, Russian women want fewer children or none at all. At present, 36.8 percent of women have only one child, 26.5 percent two, and only seven percent have three or more. “Almost 30 percent of the respondents said they did not have any children at all.”

            This shift toward having children later or not at all and having smaller families is common to many countries. In Russia, it is especially significant because it imposes severe constraints on the Kremlin’s demographic policies which are based almost exclusively on trying to boost fertility rather than addressing the super-high mortality rates among working-age males.

            A second poll, this one conducted by VTsIOM, gives some basis for optimism in the Kremlin but not nearly as much as Vladimir Putin has routinely expressed. Forty-nine percent of Russian women say they would have more children if they received promised government subsidies, but 44 percent say they would not (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=116649).

            But that polling agency, which many say is closely linked to the Putin regime, reported as well that over the last 12 years, even as most women have expressed preferences for fewer children or none, the share who want four or more children has doubled and now forms 14 percent (lenta.ru/news/2018/01/22/children/).

                What that means, Stepan Lvov, head of VTsIOM’s research department, says, is that any improvement in the overall fertility rate is going to take place “not from the large number of small families (with one or two children) but from the large number of children in families with large numbers of children.”

            And that in turn almost certainly means that any improvement in overall fertility will occur because of more births among the less educated and lower income sectors of the population predominantly in rural locations rather than more educated and higher income groups in urban areas, a pattern that will entail other consequences as well. 

Russian Orthodox Hierarch Urges Russians Not to Vote for Putin



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – Bishop Yevtikhiy, the former vicar of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Moscow eparchate and now the pastor of the Orthodox cathedral in Ishim has called on Russian Orthodox Believes “to in no case vote for Putin on March 18,” calling the Kremlin leader “a dark cloud” and even “anti-Christian” figure. 

            Other Orthodox priests have made similar appeals, Aleksandr Soldatov writes in Novaya gazeta today “but not of the serving hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarch.” Patriarch Kirill in fact has limited himself to calling on Russian to vote but not saying how they should cast their ballots (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/01/22/75230-pomazannik-okazalsya-antihristom).

                In a recent post on his VKontakte page, the bishop said that “if you consider that there is light within you … then voting for the dark” is totally unacceptable.  By his remarks about the similarity between communism and Christianity, Yevtikhiy added, Putin had shown himself to be not of the light but of the dark.

            As Soldatov observes, “it is no secret that in Putin’s ideas about Orthodoxy there is a great deal which is incompatible with Orthodox Christianity, but the official Russian Orthodox church which has agreed to play the role of the ideological department of the regime and the patriarch’s business project has encouraged the synthesis of the cross and the five-pointed star.”

            Many Orthodox faithful and even some deacons and priests like Andrey Kurayev have complained about this. Indeed, Deacon Kurayev has posted a screenshot of the bishop’s declaration on his own web page lest Yevtikhy be forced to take it down or even recant in the coming days.

            According to Soldatov, the bishop’s biography may explain why he is showing such independent mindedness. As a priest in the 1980s, he got into trouble with his own church bosses. Later, he joined with the new congregations of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad which opened parishes in Russia.

            Then, however, he got into difficulties with them and played a major role in promoting “’the reunification’ of the two churches, after which time he retired from his Moscow post and received “the sinecure” in his own home town of Ishim.  By breaking with the official line in this way, however, Yevtikhiy may make it easier for other Russians to do the same.